Star Wars: Aberrant Cause

Chapter 19

The Peripheral Muse was sitting in deep space, silent and alone. She had been there for the past three hours. Aside from a distant beacon pulsing in the background, there was nothing within sensor range and nothing in sight.

Inside the cockpit, Saz was absentmindedly running a systems check and looking across the electro-magnetic spectrum for any signs that his ship was detectable. His Mass-Shadow Modulator was purring at peak efficiency, masking even the ship's gravitational presence. His ship was invisible and he wanted to make sure it stayed that way. It was the sort of thing he did when he was bored and trying to tweak his enhancements to the ship even further, but he was not doing it by choice.

They were late.

With a sigh, he stretched in his seat and rubbed the boredom from his eyes, wondering what Aveyla was doing at the moment. When he had left, she was in the main hangar, practicing her lightsaber form against a couple remotes. She was still a bit stiff with the weapon, especially the two satellite modules, but even he was surprised at how quickly she was improving.

She really looks like the Jedi I always imagined.

"N4, are you reading an azimuth drift in the main navigation sensor?" he said with a yawn, looking at various readings in the ship's systems.

"Affirmative, Technician, though I calculate less than a point-zero-eight-four percent error probability in our navigational efficiency. Would you like me to run a diagnostic?" the ship replied.

"No," he said. "I'll look at it when we get to the Shed."

More time passed and Saz was visibly annoyed. "You know, for a bunch of military boys, they sure can't keep a schedule. When I was in the Navy, I..." he began, but a flash of lights in the console cut short his speech.

At the edge of his sensors, a ship came out of hyperspace.

A big ship.

A big Imperial Ship.

"An Imperial-class Star Destroyer has just entered the area and is making extensive scans, Technician," N4 reported.

Saz was already alert and staring at the distant dot in space. "Yeah, I see them. What are they doing way out here?" he asked, more to himself than anyone.

"They are making extensive scans, Technician," N4 repeated.

Saz smirked. "Thanks, buddy," he said, making sure his power systems were as low as possible and that nothing might give him away to the warship. "They're going to be mighty surprised when that New Republic fleet shows up. I guess everyone is going to surprised."

For what seemed like an eternity, the Star Destroyer was slowly moving about the area, scanning with sensors and directing squadrons of TIE fighters. Saz was confident they had not detected him, but they did not appear to be leaving any time soon. Under his breath, he was cursing, for his business with the New Republic fleet might be interrupted by the presence of the Empire, which would make all of his waiting for naught.

"By the love of the Force, what is that idiot captain doing?" he groaned.

On the bridge of the Salutation, a young lieutenant came up to the captain of the ship, her lips turned down in a sour expression and her eyes not quite as bright as usual. Her posture was uptight and she could see the look of annoyance on the face of her commander. As much as she wanted to improve his disposition, her report was not going to have that effect.

"Captain, reports are negative and no contacts have been made. I'm afraid there's nothing out here but that old navigation beacon, sir," she reported.

Her captain did not react, but kept staring out the windows for any sign of their target, his posture erect and his hands stiffly held behind his back. He had not spent a year's pay and six hours in hyperspace to find nothing. "Double the search patrols and increase the sensitivity on the sensors, Lieutenant. I want that ship found," he ordered.

Lieutenant Elsan stifled a sigh and lowered her report back to her side. She had no idea what they were doing and was positive that did not have orders to be in that sector. As much as she respected the captain, his current plans to visit an area of space devoid of any planets or systems made no sense to her, though she was afraid to voice that much of an opinion. "Sir, Admiral Vesely expects us in the Hymak system in ten standard hours. Even at maximum speed, it would take us..." she began, but was interrupted by a cool response from the captain.

"Lieutenant, there is more to Naval service than keeping schedules and making Admiral Vesely happy. Is that understood?" he asked, and she retreated in her objections.

The captain was deep in thought and stroking the neatly clipped moustache at his lip, then briskly moved over to a communications station, brushing a technician to the side and setting the station to broadcast on all frequencies. "If we cannot find them, perhaps we can make them want to find us," he said with a glance to his junior officer, then reached down and pressed the broadcast switch.

Saz threw his attention to his earpiece and made sure his communication systems was not malfunctioning. "You've got to be joking. N4, boost the transceiver," he said in disbelief and checked the transmission twice, just to make sure he was not hearing things.

"I repeat, this is the Imperial Star Destroyer Salutation to the fugitive Costain Proulx. This is Captain Salazar Bimms. Do you receive?"

Saz was aghast. He had not hear that name in a long time. It took him a few moments to make sure his memory was clear, and that Salazar Bimms was the name of the snooty officer that had been stationed on the Maw with he and Alexis. He seemed to recall that Alexis was not fond of him, though she never really spoke badly of him. It was just something in her eyes that warned Saz to be wary of him, though he had only ever thought of him as a typical officer; arrogant and not to be trusted.

"Confirmed, Technician. Voice print matches Lieutenant Bimms from command structure C1-5, adjunct to D-A-G for the Maw Installation's Defense forces," N4 reported from the depths of its memory banks.

"Well, I'll be a rancor's uncle. Any idea why they're out here and seem to know that we are too?" Saz asked, checking his systems in duplicate.

"Insufficient information, Technician. The odds of this encounter happening by chance are too low to calculate," N4 replied.

Saz grimaced. "Yeah, which means someone snitched on us," he snorted, now keeping his eyes on the warship even more so. "Keep us dead quiet, N4. I want to stay a ghost to these people."

On the bridge of the Salutation, Captain Bimms waited for an answer, scanning the area for any transmission. Lieutenant Elsan pursed her lips and looked to him, waiting for him to admit there was nothing there and that they should proceed with their mission.

Bimms narrowed his eyes slightly, the gestured for both Elsan and the communications technician to move away from the station. Both of them complied, and left Bimms alone as he stared into the display, his lips hovering just above the microphone. "Proulx, if you can hear me, I've come with information about the investigation into the death of Alexis Muse. As you may or may not know, I was also fond of her and feel you deserve to know what truly happened that day," he explained, looking at the display with an oddly detached look on his face.

There was a long silence.

"You have my attention," said a crackling voice over the speakers.

Bimms was instantly erect and stabbing his finger at Elsan to get her to track the signal, and the wild look in his eyes showed he would not tolerate failure. It had been a long shot that he would even be out there, but to hear him respond validated all of the time and money it took to finally track him down, and he would not let anything get in the way of him capturing the rogue technician.

Professionally, he regained his composure and leaned down to the microphone again. "It's good to hear your voice, Proulx. I've looked forward to meeting to you for some time," he cooed, watching his bridge crew like a hawk to see if they were doing everything they could to find the source of the transmissions.

"Don't stick a mynock in my pants and ask me to waltz, Lieutenant. Tell me about Alex," said the voice, and Bimms was instantly annoyed at being referred to at the junior rank.

Despite his anger, he calmed himself and continued to watch his crew for signs of their success. "I'm sure you know that her death was ruled an accident, but I was able to get information that proves that her flight computer had been sabotaged by someone aboard the station. I can share that information with you, if you were to return a certain something you stole when you left the station."

There was another long silence, and Bimms wondered if he had baited him too much.

"Who?" came a much deeper response.

Bimms smiled at his tone. "Dock with my ship and I will trade all of my information for the family heirloom you stole from my quarters. I think that's a fair trade, don't you?" he coaxed, though his attention was soon captured by Lieutenant Elsan. Releasing the transmitter, he leaned closer to her to hear her report.

"We've located the source of the transmission and targeted the tractor beam, sir," she called.

The captain nodded and turned back to the station, waiting to hear a response. The silence was eroding his hope that he could get Proulx to simply board the ship, where he would be arrested and forced to tell him where the sword was. Returning the stolen data files and the prototype fighter would go a long way to his next promotion, but his personal desire was to see him suffer for taking his treasured heirloom and discrediting him to his family.

If you only knew the trouble you've caused me, Proulx. I'll have you up by your ears for it.

The silence continued and Bimms felt his hand being forced. "Proulx, do you copy?" he asked once more, though he suspected he may not hear another word.

Abandoning the transmitter, Bimms gave the signal to Eslan and a beam of energy lurched from the Star Destroyer and latched onto a small, invisible object just at the edge of its range, though to his instant dismay, turned out to be a small relay module.

Saz watched his relay module snatched by the tractor beam and smirked at the deception. Only N4 had known how close he was to actually negotiating with Bimms over his proclaimed information, but the trapped relay was all the proof he needed that Imperial captain was just playing games.

"Oh, nice try, Lieutenant. I'd charge you for the price of that relay, but I think we can just call it even with your generous donation from before, right?" Saz taunted into his microphone as he switched to one of the other relays he had initially dispersed for his intended rendezvous. Hiding in plain sight was always easier when bouncing communications off of stealth relays.

"Proulx! Show yourself immediately and return the Blade of Eminence! You cowardly..." raged the voice at the other end of the line and Saz barely stifled his laughter.

"Blade of Eminence? Who actually names a sword something like that?" he said to N4, enjoying the torrent of curses on the line but no longer answering.

"I am unfamiliar with that artifact," N4 commented.

Saz smiled deviously. "Well, if he means that gaudy-looking stick I took from his room, I melted it down to fabricate your exhaust baffles, buddy. Rhenium is hard to come by, you know?"

With Bimms still ranting and raving over the communications line, several New Republic starships dropped from hyperspace nearby and were instantly aware of the Imperial ship. Although not expecting it, the small fleet began a defensive formation and the obvious flagship, a Liberty cruiser, was moving to parlay the Star Destroyer. The Salutation reacted as well and recalled her fighters to set up a defense perimeter.

Within a few minutes, shots illuminated between the two forces all while Saz watched from a distance.

"It's about time they showed up. Now, if they'd hurry up and complete my comm drop, I can leave this little party," he said, watching on his display as the transmission from one of the smaller New Republic escorts edged closer to complete. He was happy that someone was smart enough to continue transmitting while the skirmish went on, but he also could not help but send his gaze over to the massive Imperial warship.

It was a surprise that Bimms was on board, but even more so that he claimed to have information about the death of Alexis. The snatched relay was proof of his intentions, but something in his gut told him that the man had not been lying about there being sabotage on her fatal flight. He was not about to march into their hangar and barter for anything, but a small voice was telling him that there was a hidden truth in the matter and that Bimms did know something.

He found himself tempted to fly into the hangar after all.

"Package received, Technician. Calculations for hyperspace are input and ready," N4 reported.

Still staring at the battling Star Destroyer, Saz finally shook off the feeling about Bimms and powered up his flight systems. "Let's head home," he said hoarsely. With the two groups engaged in battle, no one noticed the dark fighter skirt away from the area and slip into hyperspace.

Upon arriving at the Shed, Saz's mood had soured. Too much time to think while traveling through hyperspace had made him second-guess his choice not to engage Bimms about his information. N4 had reassured him that not even the Peripheral Muse would be able to assault an Imperial-class Star Destroyer, but rational thought had been abandoned as soon as the subject of Alexis came up.

Stomping away from the hangar and straight to his room without completing his checklists illustrated his bad mood. He did not even acknowledge Aveyla as she waited in her usual place for him. He simply wanted to be alone and fume at the very idea that someone had been behind Alexis's death, not even bothering to look over the communication package he had received from his New Republic contacts, which now sat lifelessly on a datapad thrown carelessly onto his bed.

Soon enough, however, his door slid open and Aveyla's head peeked into sight.

"Not now," snarled Saz, looking to her before shifting angrily in his chair.

Aveyla would have usually retreated, but strangely she did not. "Is everything okay?" she asked timidly.

"I said, not now!" he snapped at her, cursing the fact that now, of all times, she did not simply slink away and leave him alone.

She did not even flinch. "Please tell me of your troubles," she coaxed, stepping fully into his doorway and appeared far out of character from her usual self.

Saz's posture snapped up and his eyes flared at her. "Do you not understand Basic? You damn..." he roared, but caught himself in the middle of something vulgar. Realizing that he had no reason to take anything out on her, and that his mind was heading somewhere dark, his chest shuddered as he took a long breath and his hand smothered his mouth. His eyes were tired and he guessed that waiting for so long in deep space had taken a greater toll on him that he realized.

"Sorry," he sighed, idly impressed that her composure had been calm for the entire tirade.

Aveyla smiled weakly and shook her head.

Ironically, Saz smiled a bit to himself when he realized he was angry over nothing. Bimms had lied. There was no evidence of sabotage in Alex's death. It was the same old tricks to try and get the Muse back. The painful memories had simply gotten to him and he was taking it out on Aveyla, which made him into the real villain.

It was a role that he was ill-equipped to play.

"Take a seat and hand me the datapad, would you?" he said, gesturing to the flat tablet laying nearby. Aveyla nodded and padded softly to his bed, sitting nearby as she handed him the tablet. He noticed that she was now wearing the three pentagon-shaped armor pieces he had crafted for her, a functional addition to her outfit. The two on her hips had specifically-designed notches, with each of the two satellite modules of her lightsaber snapped in, appearing as nothing more than decorative knobs. The front piece covered her groin, with the shoto of her lightsaber also concealed as a horizontal decoration. It let her have access to her weapon without anyone suspecting that she was carrying a lightsaber.

There was no reason to tell the galaxy that she might be a Jedi.

Saz took the tablet, using the admiration of his own work to get his mind clear from the darkness. "Okay, let's see what we have here," he said, leaning into his chair and thumbing through the files. "Two job requests. One payment...glad to be getting that. A letter from Tauqe..."

His face spread into a devious smile and she was struck by it. "Who is Tauqe?" she asked.

"Benzan Fe Tauqe. A pretty important guy I know who works R&D in the New Republic. Almost as good as engineer as me," he explained, looking over the usual letter from his friend. "Every once and awhile I get an offer from him to come and join the team, developing tech and other stuff for the good of the galaxy."

Aveyla was surprised. "You've never considered his offer?"

Saz smirked even more. "Maybe a little, but I've had enough of working on secret projects and watching my stuff be used by the scum of the military. Besides, I think Tauqe cares more about getting his hands on the Muse than anything," he said.

Aveyla nodded, though she imagined he would have a much better life as a respected member of the New Republic, so she was not sure why he continued to stay alone in the Shed. In truth, there was a lot that she did not understand about him, but that was one of the many reasons she did not regret being stuck in his little backwoods asteroid base.

All the while he was reviewing the files, she stared at him quietly.

"Well, now here's something interesting," he said, breaking her trance.

Slightly embarrassed, she arched her neck to try and see the data. "What is it?" she asked.

Saz's eyes moved up from the information and locked on her, his face revealing the depth of his discovery. "One of my contacts has found reports of a Devoranian woman in the deep Outer Rim. Sources say that she was carrying a lightsaber."

Aveyla's chest tightened. There were no images in the file and the information was vague, but there was no doubt as to what that information meant. She knew Saz had been fishing for information, but she had nearly given up hope. After years of longing, her hope was reignited as she stared at the script of text, knowing through her growing connection with the Force that only one person would be waiting at the other end of this path.

"Sheon."

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